Joseph Butler (May 18, 1692 O.S. – June 16, 1752) was an English bishop, theologian, apologist, and philosopher. He was born in Wantage in the English county of Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). He is known, among other things, for his critique of Thomas Hobbes's egoism and John Locke's theory of personal identity. During his life and after his death, Butler influenced many philosophers, including David Hume, Thomas Reid, and Adam Smith.
The son of a presbyterian linen-draper, he was destined for the ministry of that church, and—along with future archbishop Thomas Secker—entered Samuel Jones's dissenting academy at Gloucester (later Tewkesbury) for that purpose. Whilst there, he entered into a secret correspondence with the conformist controversialist Samuel Clarke; his letters were taken to Gloucester post office by Secker, who also collected Clarke's responses from there. Clarke later published this correspondence. In 1714, Butler decided to enter the Church of England, and went to Oriel College,Oxford. After holding various other preferments, he became rector of the rich living of Stanhope.
In 1736 he was made the head chaplain of King George II's wife Caroline, on the advice of Lancelot Blackburne. In 1738 he was appointed bishop of Bristol. He is said (apocryphally) to have declined an offer to become the archbishop of Canterbury in 1747. He became Bishop of Durham in 1750.
He is most famous for his Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel (1726) and Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed (1736). The Analogy is an important work of Christian apologetics in the history of the controversies over Deism. Butler's apologetic concentrated on "the general analogy between the principles of divine government, as set forth by the biblical revelation, and those observable in the course of nature, [an analogy which] leads us to the warrantable conclusion that there is one Author of both. Butler's arguments combined a cumulative case for faith using probabilistic reasoning to persuade Deists and others to reconsider orthodox faith. Aspects of his apologetic reasoning are reflected in the writings of twentieth century Christian apologists such as C. S. Lewis and John Warwick Montgomery.
The "Sermons on Human Nature" is commonly studied as an answer to Hobbes' philosophy of ethical egoism. These two books are considered by his proponents to be among the most powerful and original contributions to ethics, apologetics and theology which have ever been made. They depend for their effect entirely upon the force of their reasoning, for they have no graces of style.
Today, he is commonly cited for the blunt epigram, "Every thing is what it is, and not another thing."."
Butler died in 1752 in Bath, Somerset. His admirers praise him as an excellent man, and a diligent and conscientious churchman. Though indifferent to general literature, he had some taste in the fine arts, especially architecture.